Hey, I’ve been thinking of you. Hope you and your family are safe.
I read the message, once, twice, another five times—the words did not change, neither did the sender's name. A name that I hadn’t heard from in over—was it five or six years? The devil on my shoulder laughed, “Looks like it takes a pandemic to get him to text you.” The angel sitting gracefully on the other shoulder sighed, “He still cares.”
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Ignoring both, I quickly sent him a reply that would garner a response, I thought proudly. Besides, this wasn’t some out of control, middle of the night, “You up?” message. It was a genuine expression of worry about how I am getting along. And anyway, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about doing the same since, well, the third day of the pandemic. I’ve read all the articles that popped up about mental health during these times, so a friendly message to someone I once deeply cared about didn’t seem like a big deal. Everyone does it. Right?
From the safety of being miles away from him, the one who broke my heart in the past, it was easy not to think too deeply about our innocent messaging at first. It was literally against the law of break-ups to go out, or even catch up for a cup of coffee or glass of wine. So, it was not like I was breaking every single rule I had set for myself, when it came to the Ex, as his messages of concern began pouring in. Even as they slowly shifted from once a day to three times a day, we stayed up all night like giggling teenagers and reminisced about the days gone by.
Months went by in the blink of an eye; the pandemic didn’t leave me feeling lonely anymore. I was getting the same flutters, except this time it was a story I know the ending of, all too well—and, of course, it wasn’t a happy ending.
I know I’m not alone when I say that I found myself in this tricky situation. In a Zoom call with my girlfriends, I told them that a “friend of a friend had reached out to her ex in the lockdown” to test the waters. While I did receive some scowls in return (justifiably), surprisingly, two of them nodded along and said that they had gone through the same situation and had found themselves justifying the act. The act being in a time of duress, it was perfectly acceptable to find comfort in an ex.
It felt good that I wasn’t alone in my actions and therefore did have a solid excuse for what I had done—though it did make me feel weird that I was now a part of a statistic. But then, aren’t we all?
So, this got me thinking, what was it about us messaging at this point in our lives that made it feel ‘normal’? And is it something that we shouldn’t judge ourselves for, or should we make more effort to steer clear of this such situations?
On the surface, it made sense for the Ex and me to have reached out to each other when dealing with unimaginable uncertainty. It’s a form of comfort, after all, to return to someone safe, tried and tested. And I can’t deny the ego boost, though, of course, it’s not a point to be added to the ‘pro’ list (because of course, I made one). But all of that changed when my safety net broke from under me with one message from him, “Do you want to meet?”
For the first time in the months we have been messaging each other, I froze. All the memories of ‘The End’ began playing out in my head. I began to understand the consequences of reviving my contact with the Ex. The emotions were different, as was the scenario, but the two characters were the same; or were we?
On the one hand, if the Ex and I were genuinely interested in dating again, this could have been a great thing for us to take the plunge again. Take Jess and Nick from the American sitcom New Girl, for example. They’re proof that a breakup doesn’t have to be the end-all and maybe the person it didn’t work out with before is exactly the person you’re supposed to end up with. What was that saying again—“meeting the right person at the wrong time”?
But exes are exes mostly for a reason, and we need to be careful not to romanticize a pandemic meet-cute. While chatting is nice and boosts the ego, maybe it’s best to take some advice from Monica from Friends when her ex-boyfriend Richard got back in touch.
Even though they still had a fondness for each other, and the reasons they broke up were no longer relevant (he changed his mind about not wanting children), they were now very different people than when they were first dating. She had since moved on. And because he was now ready to commit didn’t mean it was the right thing for her to return to.
When it comes to getting in touch with an ex, there is no right or wrong answer. It’s all about your individual situation and what you both are looking for. The best thing you can do is be very clear about what you do and do not want—don’t take any risks when it comes to seeing them face to face, for both the sake of your mental health and of your partner’s. Trust me.
I knew that while he did provide me with some comfort in the middle of these dark days, the reason that we aren’t together is an issue that no amount of long-distance flirting can resolve. We may have matured enough to have a conversation with each other and care about the other’s well-being in the midst of a pandemic, but it isn’t enough for us to try a version 2.0 of something we both know, deep down, won’t come to be.
But to all others who are going through something similar, or debating whether they should be reaching out or replying to that one “Hey, hope you’re well” message, just be clear, kind, and careful. And understand that you’re not alone in this dilemma.
Richa Sheth is a freelance writer based in Pune who enjoys writing about human emotions and relationships.
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